Chargers-Steelers: Inside The Mind Of The Two Teams

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Chargers-Steelers: Inside The Mind Of The Two Teams

I'm wondering if my next statement is good news, or bad news.

I've got a long and storied history in the world of NFL handicapping...

Translation—Either the man making the bogus claim is trying to say he's really good, or really old. Most likely, both. Maybe that's why I always fell asleep in history class at school. I always got so bored with history.

Funny how times change. But I digress...

Yes sir, I've enjoyed the NFL and the sport of handicapping the NFL for quite some time now. The most interesting thing I've learned in all those years of tryin' to pick winners? 

Leave your affiliation with your favorite teams at home when you're handicapping games.

Case in point—unfortunately, I've made a few enemies among my Charger brethren by wagering against the San Diego Chargers in certain spots. In my own defense, I offer this lil' tidbit of drivel: Who would know best about when the team's going to get their A$$ kicked?

You got it.

Now, for history's sake, when it comes to the 2008 San Diego Chargers, I've not made one play with OR against the team this season. Just for reference, I'm not suggesting in any way, shape, or form, that this upcoming Steelers-Chargers game is a betable football game. Quite the opposite.

I'll have no play on this game, a game that currently sits at Steelers -6, O/U 38.0, with the Steelers -260/+220 on the moneyline, courtesy of Oddsmaker.com.

Also, as far as my history of selections through Bleacher Report is concerned, I have only suggested one pick (because I've only been here one week), shown in this link (the selection being Baltimore -2 vs. Miami.)

So why, you ask, would any of this drivel be of any importance? Simple. Thoroughly handicapping a game is the best way to get an idea of how the game will look, once that 1:45pm PST kickoff takes place.

For my money, the best way to analyze this upcoming Steelers-Chargers game, or any football game, for that matter, is to get into the minds of the two teams.

How do they think?

What do they like to do?

What have they looked like?

What have they done all season, especially against each other?

With that in mind, let's break down Steelers-Chargers.........

When the Steelers Have the Ball

Right away, we find out the one reason this game is at -6, and may even go to -6.5, by game time: The Steelers' offensive philosophy, and how it compares to what they'll try to get done against the Chargers' defense.

Right up front, neither one of these two teams has a ton of surprises for the other. We ain't talkin' Boise State here.

These teams already know what the other is going to try. Pittsburgh, especially, isn't one of those teams that relies on a lot of tom-foolery and Wildcat-like stuff when they have the ball.

They'll bring their lunch pail on Sunday. You know what they're going to do, and they know what they're going to do, too.  They're going to try to control the game.  Off-tackle plays, swing passes, and the Ward / Miller combo.  Hell, this shouldn't surprise anyone.

What Mike Tomlin and company want to do in this game is control the ball, work the clock, maintain a positive time-of-possession advantage.  They know the Chargers are 31st in the NFL defending against the pass (with only the University of Notre Dame being worse), but that doesn't matter to the Steelers.

Oh, yeah, they'll throw the ball when they want to, sometimes when they have to, but they're going to make their mark on this football game on the ground. With Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell, they've got the horses to do just that—control the clock.

All Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers want to do on Sunday is win. They're not going to care how (although they'd prefer that their defense totally dismantles the Chargers), they just want to win. The best way for Pittsburgh to do just that is to attack San Diego on the ground. 

The San Diego defense has taken many shots over the bow when it comes to their pass defense, but their run defense would be where I would be most concerned. Statistically, they're currently ranked 11th against the run, allowing an average of just over 100 yards per game. That's not too terribly bad.

The rush defense, however, has shown some cracks lately. Unfortunately for their last two opponents (the Broncos and the Colts), their OC's got away from the run, and tried to beat San Diego through the air. Both teams forgot their success earlier in those games, especially Denver, who scored both of their first-half TDs on long running plays by Tatum Bell.

You can best believe that this fact is not lost on the Steelers, especially when playing in big games. Tomlin's a smart guy, he knows what would be best for his franchise. He's gonna run at you, San Diego.

With that in mind, if the Chargers want a fair shot at beating Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon/evening, they'll have to hold the Steeler ground game to under 120 total yards on the day.

Simply stated, it'll be up to Charger DC Ron Rivera to come up with the defensive schemes to keep that Steeler ground game under control, while limiting the effectiveness of Pitt QB Ben Roethlisberger and his wideouts, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. 

Oh, don't forget about Heath Miller.  Unfortunately, the last Charger DC always forgot about the opponent's tight ends.  That's why he's where he is now, and Rivera's doing what he's doing, and doing it well. 

Consequently, the Steelers are hoping to have a big day from Parker, Moore, and Russell. If they control the game on the ground, they'll be able to do whatever they wish on offense, both pass AND run.

This will make it easier to crack the Chargers' red-zone defense later, in what will be some key drives of the football game, at some point.

Personally, if I thought the Chargers could severely hinder Pittsburgh's attempt at running the ball, I'd play San Diego +6.

Unfortunately, I don't see that happening.

I think that the Steeler ground game will be key, it'll get those key yards, and will force the Chargers to do something they'd probably rather not attempt: Score on that 2008 "Steel Curtain," and do it often enough to beat the "Stellars."

Which brings us to...

When the Chargers Have the Football

This is the sexy aspect of this football game: Philip Rivers and his high-scoring Chargers' offensive attack, vs. the number 1 defense in all of football, the Steelers' defense.

Any good handicapper that has access to an earlier contest played between the two teams in question would love to analyze that previous game, to try to ascertain what might take place in this contest.

One problem.

Both teams, especially the Chargers, are quite different today than they were in mid-November.

This is another reason why, for my money, this game isn't very attractive from a betting standpoint.

Darren Sproles had one carry in the 11-16-08 Bolts-Stellars game, because Tomlinson was the man at that time. Also, Philip Rivers and his receiving corps, including Sproles, are much improved. 

Then again, it's the Steelers. They could make Montana look like Tarvaris Jackson.

Big key here: Can the Chargers move the ball with a little more consistency than the last time that these two teams got together?  

For what it's worth, Rivers didn't exactly light the Colts' pants on fire through the air last weekend. They beat Indy on the ground with their 5'6" lightning bug, Darren Sproles. The ex-Kansas State star looks to be the same triple-threat coming into this game for the Chargers as he was against Indy.

I'm really not too concerned about Antonio Gates' high-ankle sprain, or the off-the-field troubles of wideout Vincent Jackson. Rivers has one of Peyton Manning's finest qualities: He'll throw the ball to anyone that's open, no matter who.

Their offense appears basically intact, and ready to go in this one.

Rivers is gonna have to come through in a big way through the air in this game against a quality defensive opponent if the Chargers are going to survive their vacation in Pennsylvania, something that Steeler DC Dick LeBeau is hoping will not occur.  

LeBeau has really done a fantastic job of preparing the Steelers for each and every opponent, and this game will be no exception. He knows that the Chargers have gone on this five-game winning streak as a result of their rushing attack.

His job will be to get players like Keisel, Harrison, Polamalu, Woodley, and the rest of that stellar defense in the right position to make all the plays they've been making all year. Don't think that he won't.

Bottom line?

It's going to be up to Norv Turner and his Chargers' offense to figure out ways to move the ball through the air, keep from going three-and-out, and get that same yardage on the ground in this game that they've been used to getting against lesser run defenses, like Denver and Indy.

How the Game Will Play Out

I hope you like the type of grind-it-out game that this contest is going to turn into.  Tomlin and Turner aren't about to ruin a good thing by throwing a bunch of Harry-High-School stuff at their opponent, hope that it worked out OK, but ultimately watch it blow up in their faces.

The Steelers aren't Montana's 49ers. They rely on their defense to make the big plays, to give superior field position to Ben Roethlisberger and his RB/WR corps. They allow a few too many sacks, and won't make you forget about the '99 Rams, The Greatest Show on Turf.  They just do what's needed to win. 

If defense really does win championships, the Pittsburgh Steelers had better clear a space out in their trophy case, because this LeBeau-led 11-man force gets the job done with physicality, speed, and purpose. 

If the Chargers plan on moving on to the AFC Championship game next weekend, Norv Turner and his Charger offense will have to do whatever they can to try to put up about 23-27 points in the game, and hope that Big Ben and the Steeler offense don't beat that act.

It doesn't look like a high-scoring affair at all to this jaded reporter. Remember, this game will also take place in the early evening, Pittsburgh time, with temps in the 20's, and scattered snow showers, which I don't believe will hinder either team too terribly much, the way they both like to operate.

It's more likely that we'll have a 20-13 game over a 26-23 final. The Steelers' approach to the game, combined with their lack of offensive prowess overall, tends to cause me to lean towards making an "under 38" play on the game, but I'll eventually leave this game alone. 

The reason?

It'll be much more fun to watch, then it would be to bet.

Enjoy the game...comments?

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